Achimota Speaks: stakeholders grieved over state of free SHS


High-level stakeholders from industry and academia have expressed concerns about the poor implementation of the Free Senior High School initiative, a significant social intervention programme.

According to the stakeholders who turned up in their numbers at the Academy of Arts and Sciences to participate in the annual Achimota Speaks open forum, the state of the Free SHS programme is a clear indication that critical lessons have not been taken from previous initiatives and policies, like the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) and the capitation grant, among others, introduced over a decade or so ago.

Even though they unanimously agreed that the free SHS concept is a remarkable one, they lamented that the failure of the government to consult, engage and be receptive to divergent opinions has led to the creation of a monster of a policy that is rather destroying the quality of human resource that will be required to develop the nation in the future.

The event was themed ‘The Governance, Management and Financing of Secondary Education in Ghana’.

Parent Teacher Associations (PTA), students, teachers and academics expressed concerns about how issues around feeding, infrastructure, teaching and learning materials (TLM), capacity-building of teachers, contact hours and funding, among others, have been handled, leading to the negative impacts being realised.

Keynote Speaker and Chairman of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) Prof. Ato Essuman maintained that the implementation of the Free SHS in Ghana may have been desirable if a gradualist approach and phased implementation of the programme had been adopted.

He mentioned that learning from other countries’ experiences may have led to better management of the policy as he provided some insights into what was done by countries like India, Uganda, Kenya and Morocco.

“The policy of making secondary education free and available to all is a lofty one, but such a goal will be useless and needlessly expensive if all it does is to create opportunity and give young people access without the skills that will make them great assets for the nation development or otherwise, the problems would continue to compound,” he said.

Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, Chairman of the occasion, described how values inculcated into them as young students shaped their life and integrity in a leadership position, and how the current state of education that pays little attention to these core social values will affect the quality of leaders to produce going into the future.

President of the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), Angel Carbonu, on his part, mentioned that the poor implementation of the policy has significantly affected basic education and erased public confidence.

“The saddest aspect is the basic schools, almost all our public basic schools are ruining and some private schools in ramshackle are getting students more than the public schools because the confidence in the public schools is gone,” he said.

Dr. Edem Welbeck, a Lecturer at the University of Ghana Economic Department and a panelist, lamented about how the schools are constantly calling on old students’ associations to help with day-to-day administrative challenges and infrastructure issues; but when it comes to decision-making, they cannot be considered because the government does not consider them as key stakeholders at the discussion table.

She mentioned that recent graduates under the programme cannot think critically and take decisions on their own when they gain admission to the university.

The stakeholders concluded that it is never too late to steer the wheels back on track for the effective development of talent for the nation. They urged the government to engage all stakeholders and review the policy to address the numerous shortfalls.

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